Take a different route—past the large crowds in the south—on this quick and scenic, five-day road trip. This itinerary is especially enticing for those who have been to popular areas, like the South Coast and Golden Circle, as it incorporates different regions. In West Iceland, hike to Glymur Falls, then head to the Artic Coast to check out turf houses, basalt formations, and the geothermal pools. Tour and spend two nights in Akureyri, along with discovering Goðafoss Waterfall and Lake Mývatn’s highlights, before enjoying time in the capital and a soak in the Blue Lagoon.

Highlights

  • Explore epic waterfalls, including Glymur Falls, Hraunfossar, and Goðafoss
  • Tour the incredible landscapes around Lake Mývatn and soak in the Nature Baths
  • Stroll downtown Reykjavík's art, museums, exhibitions, and lively harbor
  • See the geothermal areas on the Reykjanes Peninsula and relax in the Blue Lagoon

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Reykjavík & Tour West Iceland Laugarbakki
Day 2 Drive the Arctic Coast - Hvammstangi to Akureyri Akureyri
Day 3 Day Trip to Goðafoss & Lake Mývatn Akureyri
Day 4 Explore West Iceland & Sightseeing in Reykjavík Reykjavik
Day 5 Visit the Reykjanes Peninsula & Depart From Reykjavík  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Reykjavík and tour West Iceland

Glymur Falls
Glymur Falls

Welcome to Iceland! Upon arrival at Keflavik Airport (KEF) in the morning, pick up your rental car. Feel free to stop in Reykjavík for breakfast, or continue north to get a head start on your first day. Spend the night in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which is about a 2-2.5-hour drive north of Reykjavík. 

On your drive north, you can take a detour for an optional hike to Glymur Falls, one of Iceland's tallest waterfalls. The hike is 2-3 hours, depending on how far you go. You can also choose to embark on this hike toward the end of your trip (more details on that day).

En route, stop in Borgarnes on the water, where you can learn more about the Settlement Age of Iceland at the Settlement Center, or walk along the path down by the shore. 

If you have extra time, make stops at historic towns like Reykholt and Hvanneyri.

Then, continue a bit further north, and spend the night in the Hvammstangi/Laugarbakki area.

Day 2: Drive the Arctic Coast - Hvammstangi to Akureyri

Hvítserkur, the “White Shirt” Basalt troll
Hvítserkur, the “White Shirt” Basalt troll

Spend the day exploring the north peninsulas between Hvammstangi and Siglufjordur. Start off by either heading to Route 1, a 45-minute drive, or continue along the coast on Route 711, for 50 minutes. Destinations to bookmark for the day include the below.

A short distance from the shore along the Vatnsnes peninsula in Northwest Iceland, you will find the black-and-white rock formation known as Hvítserkur (“White Shirt"), a basalt troll, who, according to the legend, was caught in the sun and turned into stone. While it's a nice sight from above, there’s also a trail leading down from the parking lot. This area is also home to one of the largest seal colonies in Iceland—you can learn more at the Icelandic Seal Center in nearby Hvammstangi.

A visit to the Glaumbær Farm, a short detour along Route 75, is a great way to experience the turf houses and to see how Icelanders used to live. The turf helped insulate the houses during the harsh winters and strong winds. The last person lived in this house until 1947, but the oldest farm in the area dates back to around 874 (during the early Settlement Period).

Just off Route 1, spot Víðimýrarkirkja Church. Built in 1834, it is one of the only remaining, preserved turf churches in Iceland. There has been a church in this area since the year 1000 CE, when Iceland peacefully adopted Christianity (to avoid battles between Icelanders).

Far in the north, and about a 45-minute detour from Sauðárkrókur (out and back), you can soak in a very remote geothermal Grettislaug Pool. Here, there are two pools that are somewhat protected from the wind. The pool is named from Grettir—alluding to Grettir's Saga, where the Icelander supposedly warmed himself at the pool during the cold winter.

Continue your pool discovery at Sundlaugin á Hofsósi (Infinity pool, Hofsos). The pools were designed by the same architect who crafted the Blue Lagoon, and are nicely positioned near the water, offering great views across the fjord.

Next, drive along the tip of the peninsula to arrive in the fishing town of Siglufjörður, which grew thanks to the herring industry, with 22 different factories at its peak operation. Learn more about the fishing history at the three-building museum, which is also home to old boats and machinery.

Continue a bit further south to Akureyri, Iceland's second city, and your home for the night.

Day 3: Day Trip to Goðafoss and Lake Mývatn

Godafoss Waterfall
Godafoss Waterfall

After breakfast in Akureyri, continue clockwise around Route 1 (just south of the town, cross the fjord). After about 40 minutes, spot Goðafoss Waterfall on the right side of the road.

Also known as “Waterfall of the Gods,” Goðafoss is impossible to miss off the turn from Route 1 to Route 85. Hike a few minutes to see the waterfall up close, or take a longer walk around for views from different perspectives. The waterfall was named when Iceland converted to Christianity in 1000 CE. The legend says that when Þorgeir Þorkelsson, local chieftain and law speaker, made the tough decision to convert the country from the old Nordic gods to Christianity (in order to prevent war), he threw the old gods into the falls to symbolize the transition into the new era.

Next, explore the area surrounding Lake Mývatn, which has the highest concentration of volcanic and geothermal sights in Iceland. Drive counterclockwise around the lake (the western side) to get started. There is plenty to discover in one day, all of which is outlined below.

First, visit the Skútustaðir Pseudocraters, which were formed when hot lava flowed over the wet marsh area causing steam explosions. Take an easy, 1-hour walk among many pseudocraters on the shores of Lake Mývatn, and loop around the smaller lake, Stakhólstjörn. Hike up to a few of them, or just walk around the collection. Enjoy the nice views across the lake, where you will see steam rising from the geothermal areas and other volcanic craters in the distance.

Next, take a 1-hour walk beneath large, strange, contorted Dimmuborgir lava formations, caused when the post-eruption lava flows cooled. You can see the start of the formations with only a 5-minute walk, or hike the small loop in 15 minutes. If you have longer to devote, take your time and walk the bigger loop (2 miles) to see Kirkja (“The Church”), a natural lava formation that resembles a vaulted church arch, and explore a nearby cave a bit further. 

A bit past Dimmuborgir, spot a small turnout for Höfði. You can spend anywhere from 15 minutes to more than 1 hour here walking the wooded trails that take you to some very unique rock formations along the lake.

The Hverfjall cinder cone is hard to miss from anywhere around Lake Mývatn. Climb up the side for a great view of the surrounding area, where you can see the Skútustaðir Pseudocraters and steam from the Mývatn Nature Baths and Hverarönd geothermal area. 

The small lava cave of Grjótagjá comes with an added surprise inside: a natural geothermal spring. Bring a light, and follow inside the cave for perhaps the most interesting hot pool in the country. Test the water carefully—it can be quite hot.

After all of that hiking, indulge in a well-deserved break. Relax in the Mývatn Nature Baths, the north’s equivalent of the Blue Lagoon, but with fewer people, more affordable prices, and better views. You won’t find all the spa extras that you do at the Blue Lagoon, but you will be able to enjoy a couple of large, geothermal pools, a sauna, and a steam room. You can relish the views down over the lava fields and the craters around Lake Mývatn as you soak in the therapeutic mineral water.

In the evening, head back to Akureyri for another night (optionally, you can spend the night in the Mývatn area; however, it will add more driving for tomorrow). 

Day 4: Explore West Iceland and sightseeing in Reykjavík

A view of Reykjavik from the church tower
A view of Reykjavik from the church tower

There are a few stops along your drive back south—in case you skipped them on previous days. Visit the Settlement Center in Borgarnes, and then go for a hike at Glymur Falls. With extra time, make a stop by Hraunfossar (“Lava Falls”) and Barnafoss (“Children's Waterfall”), both known for hosting some of the most unique and spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. Clear, subterranean water seeps through the lava fields, pouring out of the rocks and creating Hraunfossar.

Finish the day in Reykjavík. Walk through compact downtown to check out the unique street art scene. Head to the water for the Sun Voyager Sculpture and the Harpa Concert Hall, with its unique, glass architecture. Visit Hallgrímskirkja, a church on the hill, and take the elevator to the top of the tower for a great view of the city below and panoramic views of the area.

If the need arises to escape inclement weather, consider visiting a few museums in town, such as the Northern Lights CenterSaga MuseumMarine Museum, or Whales of Iceland Exhibition. You can also join a whale watching tour from Reykjavík Harbour, and snack on a world-famous hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.

For delicious lunch and dinner recommendations, consider the below:

  • Messinn
  • Sea Barron
  • Kol Restaurant
  • The Coocoo's Nest
  • Kaffivagninn (lunch only)
  • Café Loki

If you are interested in checking out Reykjavík’s nightlife scene, visit the following bars:

  • Craft Cocktails
  • Mikkeller & Friends
  • Skúli Craft Bar
  • KEX Hostel Bar (live music on weekends)

Day 5: Visit the Reykjanes Peninsula and depart from Reykjavík

Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon

Spend your last day exploring more of Reykjavík. Stop by the Blue Lagoon on your drive to the airport, where you can enjoy one, last geothermal soak before you fly home.

If you have more time, visit some of the highlights around the Reykjanes Peninsula. The following places are often missed by travelers quickly traveling between Reykjavik and KEF airport for departure. With a bit more time, you can explore lava fields, geothermal areas, lighthouses, and small fishing towns.

These places are listed east to west, as you drive from Reykjavik to KEF clockwise around the peninsula:

  • Krýsuvík geothermal area: While you can walk around the area near the parking lot in as little as 5 minutes, take your time to see the steam vents and hot pools up close. Look up at the multicolored hills surrounding the area. There’s a short, steep trail up the hill, which offers great views on a clear day.
  • Gunnuhver hot springs and geothermal area: Here, find a couple of bubbling and steaming mud pools. Gunnuhver is named after a female ghost who was said to be trapped in the hot springs more than 400 years ago. Temperatures are extremely hot, so stick to the walkways and viewing areas. While here, continue about 5 minutes to the cliffs to stop at Reykjanesviti lighthouse with beautiful views of Iceland from atop a hill.
  • Bridge Between Continents (Europe Miðlína): This area is a great symbol of Icelandic geology. The Reykjanes Peninsula is on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which pulls apart a few centimeters every year. You can cross the bridge between the continental plates while you’re here, and look down at the gap below.
  • Garður Lighthouse: About 15 minutes north of KEF, you will arrive at two lighthouses—one on the coast (older and not as stable), and a second a bit further inland. This scenic area can be a nice area to walk around and stretch your legs before boarding your return flight home.

Map

Map of Quick Road Trip to Iceland's North & Lake Mývatn - 5 Days
Map of Quick Road Trip to Iceland's North & Lake Mývatn - 5 Days